Adapt and Thrive

As I look back over 2017, it was without a doubt an atypical year for our world, our country, and our home. The saying, “adapt or die,” comes to mind but it makes more sense to me if I reword it “adapt and thrive.” It tends to resonate better for me, although I do indeed respect the original saying.

There is no way I can digest and respond to what has been going on in our world right now, it is too over whelming to tackle but I can focus on a small piece of our lives. This year, I’ve had very little time to focus on the natural world and harvesting herbs except for a couple of moments I stole here and there. With that said, Mike created a wonderful little nursery at our new home for some of my plant allies to move into.  Although, they had a very late start, they do appear to be adapting to their new home and thriving beyond my expectations. Some are even to starting to flower in mid-October!

After I transplanted Arnica (Arnica spp.), it appeared to wither, so I decided to cut off the tops, hoping it would help it concentrate on establishing its roots. For a month, it looked dead, except for a little leaf here or there emerging from the soil. Now it appears that it has settled in and enjoys its new home. It is leafing out nicely, I would be surprised if it flowers this year, but I’m looking forward to it spreading out in 2018.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) seemed to make itself at home instantaneously. I didn’t have to provide much support except water during our dry periods.

Three years ago, I transplanted St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatumin) to my old garden. It didn’t come back until this spring, and it did robustly. I collected flowers daily until I moved some of it to our new nursery. It continued to send out flowers but I did not harvest any, allowing it to get acclimated to its new home. Well, it must like its new home, because it is now sending out fresh new aerial parts. I am mentally prepared to wait a couple of seasons before it revisits the nursery but hopeful that it will return next year.

When I moved to a little cottage in the woods in 1998, I became enamored with Spearmint (Mentha spicata). It was growing right outside my front door. After a summer of adding it to my water, sun tea and random dishes, I couldn’t imagine life without it. It really brightens up the day and I have been planting a little stem at each new home since. Spearmint is a rather vigorous plant, and you really don’t need much for it to get established. Perhaps it was not prudent to put it into our nursery as our little plant is really thriving, but we can always find it a new home on the land next year.

A dear friend gifted me Calendula (Calendula officinalis) seeds and although they had a very slow start, they are now sending out lots of lovely orange blossoms. I am hoping they self-seed next year.

Although the new house’s gardens had Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) already, I needed to bring some with me. I cut the aerial parts so it could concentrate on establishing roots. I am overwhelmed that it is already sending out flowers.

Mike was planting Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) seeds for his orchard garden, so I took a couple seedlings for the nursery. Besides its medicinal qualities, it’s a great asset to any garden, as its root secretions will activate the disease resistance of nearby plants; and it intensifies the medicinal actions of other herbs.

Mike also planted some Tulsi, a.k.a Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) seedlings that I transplanted into the garden, which has started to flower. I love how the bees’ pollen sacs are bright red from visiting the Tulsi.

Although, I didn’t have much time to spend with herbs this year, I am overwhelmed with their ability to thrive in our little nursery. I cannot wait to spend more time with them in 2018.

Let’s see who’s there

If you have been reading my blog, I am sure you know by now that gardening and maintaining a garden is just not my thing. But when it comes to foraging, now that is more up my alley. Although, you can claim removing last year’s dead stems and leaves is actually “gardening,” I view it more like exploration. Because the very act of removing all last year’s detritus from my little medicinal garden is always thrilling. It reminds me of when I would take Mathew into the woods to see what critters were living under logs and rocks. We would very slowly and carefully pick the object up to see who was there. It was always very exciting.  That’s how I approach my little garden. Mind you, it is a very small garden perhaps only 10′ x 10′, but an enormous amount of love and intention goes into it.

waking up the gardenAs I started to remove last year’s detritus, the first plants to reveal themselves were Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and Catnip (Nepeta cataria). I think I could also see a very shy Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) peaking through. Since I removed everything that would impede their journey to the surface and as long as the weather continues to be “spring like,” I suspect now all the plants will have an easier time revealing themselves, and by the end of the week more will breaking through the earth.

Waking up Lady's Mantle

Waking up Lady’s Mantle

This will be the 6th year I will be nurturing the garden. Every year, I add one or two more herbs to get to know and learn. Some of them I had never worked with before, so it has been very interesting. Gratefully, most of the herbs love the garden, coming back and flourish year after year. Unfortunately, some have enjoyed the garden a little bit too much. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and Catnip (Nepeta cataria) adore the garden but since they thrive all over our land, there is no reason for them to take up space here.  Other plants have found their way into my garden and are welcome, such as Red Clover (Trifolium pretense). Several years ago, I learned how tenacious Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was, silly me, I planted it in the center of the garden, thinking it would look nice. It really did until it started to crowd all the other plants who were stifled by its beautiful large overbearing leaves and flower stalks.  The next fall, we tried our best to take it all out so the other plants could breathe again. We replanted the Comfrey between Mike’s baby apple trees, where is will help the trees thrive. Comfrey’s root system efficiently mines potassium, calcium along with other minerals enriching the soil around it. We did not do the best job eradicating it from the garden, as it keeps revealing itself, less each year but nevertheless she is always there. Truthfully, I am not too sure that it is possible to totally eradicate Comfrey, but I guess time will tell. It is a fabulous reminder that we really cannot manage nature. One of the very reasons I am more of a forager at heart than a gardener.

 

 

Lack of attention and rain on the land

I am finally home for a while after being away for most of July.  I do love traveling, but ever since I started traveling in April, I have missed more than my share of significant events on the land. Sure, you can’t be around for every blossom but this year was incomparable. As with all things, life carried on without me but my lack of presence on the land was quite apparent. Even though, I regularly declare that I am not a farmer/gardener but a forager; if truth be told I am actually the caretaker or perhaps steward of the land. I watch, observe and support when needed.  During my absence many of my beloved plants carried on, bloomed while others did not fair as well. The Finger Lakes, in particular Trumansburg had almost no rainfall since May, especially during my absence and it has taken a noticeable toll on the land.

As I walked the land, it clearly evolved differently than in other years. Some of my favorites were sparse while others flourished. I wonder how each factor: scarcity of rain, lack of mowing and my absence may have played a part in it all. Besides not mowing, I wasn’t there to deadhead and remove all the dried out parts, which were in great supply. Regardless the land was obviously stressed and employing various coping mechanisms.

Calendula

Calendula

Echinachea

Echinachea

Beebalm

Bee Balm

My little medicinal garden had radically changed since I left on July 2nd.  The Calendula (Calendula officinalis) started to take over the garden like usual and luckily provided a nice ground cover keeping some moisture in the soil. Nevertheless, without my attention by deadheading and some rain, the Calendula became very tall, thin and noticeably frail. This allowed the Echinacea (Echinacea, spp.)  to thrive along with the Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) creating a nice balance between the three.

Last fall I experimented with harvesting Echinacea’s roots while leaving the crown intact and replanting it. The crown is the part of the root system that separates the branches of roots from where the stem emerges. I left about an inch and half and replanted it immediately. I am thrilled to say that it really worked even under these stressful conditions. The Echinacea came back and is now thriving. I had always believed that I needed to say goodbye to the plants when I harvested their roots. Thank goodness, I was mistaken.

Although, there are plants surviving and some even thriving, sadly others barely had the strength to fully bloom. Some didn’t develop any blossoms; requiring too much energy so perhaps they are saving it up for next year.  I have always tried to harvest herbs during periods of abundance and thankfully have enough in my apothecary to share throughout the coming year without harvesting this year. Unfortunately, I did miss some of my favorites or could only find a very limited number of vibrant fresh blossoms as many had already gone to seed. That is just one of the challenges involved when working in concert with Mother Nature.

What changes have you noticed on your land this year? Please share and I will continue to share.

All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

 

 

 

Preparing for flu and cold season

On a bright shiny August afternoon I decided to prepare for cold and flu season. Kinda weird to think about sickness on such a fabulous day but the plants were calling me. Boneset and Echinacea were blooming and dancing in the wind; you can say they were waving me over. They were reminding me that I should prepare for days of fever and runny noses.

EchinacheaEchinacea (Echinacea spp.) is a first line of defense herb. It is best to take before a full-blown cold or flu has taken hold of your body. It’s perfect to take when you feel something brewing, like a scratchy throat or you just don’t feel like yourself. It works in concert with a person’s natural healthy immune system and helps boosts it by stimulating the activity of macrophages and natural killer cells. It accelerates phagocytosis, our body’s mechanism where macrophages and other antibodies attack and remove bacteria. This is an important way the immune system removes various pathogens, bacteria and other cellular debris. Echinacea also helps to reduce the production of an enzyme that breaks down hyaluronic acid (an important and highly viscous fluid that holds and binds cells together, lubricates body tissue, and blocks the spread of microorganisms). Because of how Echinacea supports the immune system, its principal usefulness depends on a healthy immune system. Without a healthy population of antibodies to work with, Echinacea’s ability to fight infection is limited. This means timing is critical to its effectiveness ~ it should be taken at the first onset of symptoms, otherwise it’s not really that effective for colds and flu. Finally, it is not the herb for people who have frequent colds and a weakened immune system brought on by poor diet and lifestyle choices.

In addition to Echinacea being a powerful immunomodulator, it is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, a vulnerary, a lymphagogue (promotes lymph flow), antibiotic, detoxifying, increases sweating, and heals wounds. Besides being the first line of defense, it is ideal for relieving the pain and inflammation of insect, spider and snakebites. If a snake bites you, take Echinacea but also go to the hospital. One should take it internally and apply topically for relief.  Furthermore, it helps heal wounds, acne, boils, abscesses, septicemia (bacterial infection enters the bloodstream), and mouth infections.

I harvested the Echinacea flowers and leaves, which contain polysaccharides that are known to activate the immune system. I will harvest the roots in the fall after the flowers have gone to seed. I make two separate tinctures, one with flowers and leaves and another with roots. Once they are both decanted, I will then combine the two. There are several closely related species of Echinacea so, I like to test the plants potency by chewing on the fresh seeds. They have a beautiful spiky seed head and it is no big surprise that the Greek meaning for Echinacea is hedgehog. When you taste a potent Echinacea seed, you’ll immediately get a tingly sensation on your tongue followed by a mouth full of saliva (known as sialagogue). The increased salvia helps heal mouth infections and promotes digestion along with validating it potency.

Harvested Boneset

Harvested Boneset

If you weren’t fast enough to utilize the medicinal powers of Echinacea and a bad cold or flu has gotten its grips on you, Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is the remedy for you. It really knocks the socks off any cold or flu, especially when a cold just seems to linger for months. I think of it as the bouncer for your body and it kicks out the nasty germs that have overstayed their welcome. I like to harvest the blossoms and leaves when less than half the flowers in a cluster are just starting to open, when the vital energy is rising. Boneset is ideal to have in our travel First Aid kit.

When you collect any herbs, please keep in mind:

  • Be sure you have made a definite identification, so use a field guide.
  • Harvest it in a respectful way, leave some, please do not overharvest, and make sure there will be a healthy crop for the future and the pollinators.
  • Harvest away from traffic and areas where chemicals have not been sprayed or animals relieve themselves.
  • If you are unsure, it is best to move on and not harvest in that area.
Now we are ready!

Now we are ready!

Harvesting herbs is a wonderful activity for a sunny August afternoon and good insurance for a healthy future.

All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

What’s under there?

If you have been reading my blog, I am sure you know by now that gardening does not come naturally to me. Foraging does. Perhaps I am approaching gardening differently this year, because the very act of removing last year’s dead stems and leaves from my little medicinal garden was thrilling. It reminded me of when I would take Mathew into the woods to see what critters were living under logs and rocks. We would very slowly and carefully pick the object up, to see who was there. It was always very exciting.  That is how I’m approaching my little garden this year. Mind you, it is a very small garden perhaps only 10′ x 7′, but an enormous amount of love and intention goes into it.

waking up the gardenAs I started to remove last year’s detritus, the first plants to reveal themselves were Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and Catnip (Nepeta cataria). I think I could also see a very shy Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) peaking through. Since I removed everything that would impede their journey to the surface and as long as the weather continues to be “spring like,” I suspect now all the plants will have an easier time revealing themselves, and by the end of the week more will breaking through the earth.

Waking up Lady's Mantle

Waking up Lady’s Mantle

This will be the 4th year I will be nurturing the garden. Every year, I add one or two more herbs to get to know and learn. Some of them I had never worked with before, so it has been very interesting. Gratefully, most of the herbs love the garden, coming back and thriving year after year. Unfortunately, some have enjoyed the garden a little bit too much. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) and Catnip (Nepeta cataria) adore the garden but since they thrive all over our land, there is no reason for them to take up space here.  Other plants have found their way into my garden and are welcome, such as Red Clover (Trifolium pretense). Last year, I learned how tenacious Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) was, silly me, I planted it in the center of the garden, thinking it would look nice. It really did until it started to crowd all the other plants who were stifled by its beautiful large overbearing leaves and flower stalks.  Last fall, we tried our best to take it all out so the other plants could breathe again. We replanted the comfrey between Mike’s baby apple trees, where is will help the trees thrive. Comfrey’s root system efficiently mines potassium, calcium along with other minerals enriching the soil around it. Hopefully, we did a good job eradicating it from the garden. Truthfully, I am not too sure that it is possible but I guess time will tell. It is a fabulous reminder that we really cannot manage nature. One of the very reasons I am more of a forager at heart than a gardener.